Galway so close and yet so far as champions Limerick prevail
All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship semi-final: Galway 1-21 Limerick 0-27
THIS was one hell of a rumble in Croke Park – a memorable semi-final that exceeded all expectations and which saw the battered and bruised All-Ireland champions Limerick still standing at the end.
It was breathless stuff from start to finish and went some way to compensating for the previous day's non-event between Kilkenny and Clare.
If there was to be a painfully one-sided All-Ireland semi-final, the smart money was probably on yesterday's clash between Limerick and Galway rather than the unlikely collapse of the Banner 24 hours earlier.
After all, the Tribesmen didn't pull up any trees in this year's Leinster final against Kilkenny before putting together a decent display against Cork in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.
But few people - not even the most optimistic Galway supporters - saw this kind of full-blooded, courageous performance coming from Henry Shefflin's side.
They matched the champions in every department. For long stretches of yesterday’s semi-final, they played the more inventive hurling too and made Limerick look a shade ordinary and one-dimensional at times.
Of course, Galway will rue their 19 wides, even though Limerick racked up just four fewer, and they’ll also have regrets about their defence not getting touch-tight to Limerick’s lauded inside forwards in the opening 10 minutes.
As it transpired, the champions ended up relying heavily on Aaron Gillane’s imperious start to this semi-final and their bench that eventually saw off Galway’s inspiring challenge to dethrone them.
A huge roar greeted the arrivals of Peter Casey and Cian Lynch in the 55th and 57th minutes, but it was 61st minute substitute David Reidy who won this epic battle for Limerick.
With no more than a point between the sides entering the nerve-shredding home straight, Reidy sat in the pocket, just ahead of the Limerick midfield, accepted three clever passes and swung over three brilliant points towards the end that finally slayed the Tribe.
Galway’s last equalising score of the day, courtesy of Conor Whelan, came in the 66th minute before Reidy twice fired over and Diarmaid Byrnes hit his sixth nerveless free of the afternoon to set up an All-Ireland final date with Kilkenny on July 17, the Cats being the last team to beat Limerick on the All-Ireland stage three years ago.
Galway had hoped Brian Concannon’s wonderful major in the 38th minute, which drew the underdogs level [1-13 to 0-16], would swing this semi-final in their favour, but Limerick showed their mettle and never allowed the goal to condemn them.
But Limerick were rattled.
Five minutes after the Galway goal, Gillane screwed a free wide at the Hill 16 end and in the next attack Joe Cooney swivelled beneath the Cusack stand to send over an awesome score that edged Galway in front on 44 minutes.
Croke Park erupted at Cooney's sensational puck and Galway tentatively began to dream the impossible.
While Byrnes missed a couple of long-distance placed balls he converted enough of them to settle Limerick again as John Kiely began emptying his star-studded bench that gave the champions impetus.
Although Tom Monaghan, irrepressible on Galway’s left flank, opened the scoring after one minute, Limerick had a touch of the ‘Invincibles’ about them in the opening exchanges.
It looked like being another Aaron Gillane-Seamus Flanagan exhibition show. Flanagan hit two screamers in the third and fifth minutes while Gillane’s movement and shooting were outrageous as Limerick breezed into a 0-6 to 0-1 lead after eight blistering minutes.
Galway corner-back Jack Grealish didn’t know what to do with Gillane as Limerick’s cross-field passes seemed to find him out in front every time.
Still, Galway showed courage and never buckled. They stuck to the process, playing short, sharp puck-outs and were getting some joy playing between the lines.
The deep-lying Cathal Mannion was playing a canny game, denying Limerick runners space to run into while also breaking forward to grab two first-half points from play.
David Burke showed the Limerick midfield a clean pair of heels in the 16th minute, off-loading to Ronan Glennon to point but it took Galway a long time to reel Limerick in on the scoreboard, largely due to some wayward shooting.
But once Concannon caught David Burke’s raking puck three minutes after the restart and thumped the ball into the roof of the net, everything seemed possible for Galway.
At the other end, Limerick’s scoring threat subsided considerably with only Kyle Hayes and Gillane reaching anywhere near their potential among their front six, with Daithi Burke getting tighter to Gillane in the second half than Grealish managed in the opening period.
It was during Galway’s ascendancy after half-time that a couple of marginal calls went against them that enraged Galway boss Shefflin who was yellow-carded for his animated protests.
In the press room afterwards, however, the Kilkenny legend didn’t use those couple of 50-50 calls as reasons for Galway’s defeat.
“After we got the goal there were a few marginal calls but, look, I don’t think they all went over the bar either and if you look at the overall context of the game it comes and goes a little bit,” Shefflin said.
Substitutes Cian Lynch and Peter Casey barely touched leather while on the field, but their mere presence seemed to lift those around them and undoubtedly had a galvanising effect on their own supporters who easily outnumbered their Galway counterparts three-to-one.
But it was the finishing prowess of David Reidy who gave them a day to remember by plundering three brilliant points in the closing stages to seal Limerick's final place.
Galway hacked at a few efforts during five minutes of stoppage-time, and there was to be no dramatic finale in Croke Park yesterday.
Limerick survived. Their stab at three-in-a-row is still on. But they were softened up by Galway.
Kilkenny will relish the opportunity of finishing the job in 13 days’ time.
Galway: E Murphy; J Grealish, D Burke, D Morrissey; P Mannion (0-2, 0-1 free), J Flynn, F Burke (0-1); R Glennon (0-2), D Burke; T Monaghan (0-4), C Cooney (0-5, 0-4 frees), J Cooney (0-1); C Whelan (0-2), B Concannon (1-0), C Mannion (0-4) Subs: C Fahy for J Flynn (53), J Coen for R Glennon (64), E Niland for D Burke (67), K Cooney for C Cooney (75)
Yellow cards: J Flynn (32), D Morrissey (34), D Burke (46), J Coen (75)
Limerick: N Quaid; S Finn, M Casey, B Nash (0-1); D Byrnes (0-6 frees), D Hannon (0-1), D Morrissey; W O’Donoghue (0-1), D O’Donovan; G Hegarty (0-1), K Hayes (0-3), T Morrissey (0-1); A Gillane (0-8, 0-1 free), S Flanagan (0-2), G Mulcahy Subs: P Casey for G Mulcahy (55), C Lynch for T Morrissey (57), D Reidy (0-3) for D O’Donovan (61), C O’Neill for G Hegarty (63), C Boylan for S Flanagan (67)
Referee: T Walsh (Waterford)
Attendance: 52, 215